This, in my mind, is the difference between writing for and about teenagers.
There are problems and they are not resolved.
I have a book coming out this week and one of the things on my mind, besides the fact that I’m a teacher and I’m going back to school and my kid is starting first grade and I selectively forgot to do all the major cleaning projects I thought I might tackle over the summer, and the damn Subaru dealer won’t call me back about replacing my faulty airbags, yeah besides all that. I’ve been thinking about the fact that not everyone will like my book.
Art and literature is subjective. I accept that because if I didn’t I’d be an idiot/insane. In WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE there is a lot of (teenage) drinking and some drug use. I didn’t think that much about it when I wrote it because it was consistent with my high school experience. I did most of the things my characters did without any major related tragedies. This is not to say I condone those behaviors -whether I do or not is not the point -the point is they happen.
SOME PEOPLE think that if you write YA fiction, you should write books in which teens who have sex regret it, or get pregnant or a disease. If teens drink or do drugs they should regret it or get in car accidents or develop addictions. That way no actual teens will read the book and think these things are a good idea. As though teens (or any of us) might be more influenced by fiction than the trusted people around us. SOME PEOPLE like things tidy and morally unambiguous. That’s not the kind of fiction that interests me whether it’s written about teenagers or adults. It’s not what I’d choose to read so it’s not what I choose to write.
There are problems in WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE. Big problems about friendship and identity, about moving past life in high school and reconciling the future with the past. There will be some resolution because a story needs that. But life is messy and often times morally ambiguous and I think it’s okay for teenagers (and all of us) to know that too.
This morning I listened to a re-broadcast of an interview with David Denby on his book Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives. There were a few moments when I was white knuckling the steering wheel from annoyance. Here are two older white dudes hemming and hawing about kids on their smart phones and the fact that no one reads Huck Finn anymore. In the next breath they were totally dismissive of Twilight and The Hunger Games, which great or not, got thousands, if not millions of kids to read.
There is so much wonderful YA literature beyond the mega-franchises and the interviewer and his guest were acting like reading Dickens is the only way for teenagers to become readers. There was also an element of youth-shaming. As if it’s all well and good for adults to be on their devices 24-7 because they actually read Tom Sawyer (and not the Spark notes) when they were in high school.
Technology is not destroying culture. Stories will always be relevant to our society even if the form they take is something different than what we’ve seen before.
Here is MY list of “great” books to engage your teenage or old fuddy-duddy self in reading.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Winger by Andrew Smith
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Gabi a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
I’ll Give You The Sky by Jandy Nelson
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Feed by MT Anderson (see this one for commentary on technology in society)
In Darkness by Nick Lake
There are two great ways you can win a copy of WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE before its official pub date of September 1!
First -my publisher, Carolrhoda Lab is giving away a copy on their blog.
Second -I’ve got a giveaway up on goodreads through September 2nd. So please spread the word!
I wrote this book about two years ago -my first book took about four years to go from draft to publication. The point is it’s fun to celebrate with all the people who have supported me and this book along the way.
When: SEPTEMBER 9TH AT 7PM
Where: MECHANICS HALL LIBRARY 519 CONGRESS ST. PORTLAND, ME
What: Cupcakes, Reading, Wine/Beer in a really cool old school library!
Poster Book Launch
And they are gorgeous! Thanks to the amazingly talented Laura Otto Rinne at Lerner Books. Carolrhoda Lab and Lerner have set the bar pretty dang high for any future books I may be lucky enough to get published. Check out the amazing inside cover.
Both Wired Man and The Other Way Around were so beautifully designed inside and out! With less than two months until this baby launches into the world I’m super psyched to share my favorite quote from the Publisher’s Weekly review (which you read in full here if you so desire.)
“It’s a keenly observed, emotionally deep examination of wounded, insecure teens trying to find their way.”
If you want to pre-order this bad boy feel free to use any of the links below.
Thanks always for your love and support -look out for details coming on a book release party!!
This year at the middle school I started a club called Safe Space. The mission of our club is promote diversity, tolerance, respect and understanding for all students and staff at the middle school. There is nothing about being gay in our mission statement, but our flyer features a rainbow triangle so for some students I hope the message is clear.
So far in our first few meetings we mostly just sit around and shoot the shit. And that’s how I envisioned it. There is a loneliness inherent in hiding a part of yourself away. This is true for students who have strong friendships and even more so for those who don’t. So combatting loneliness was a big part of why I’ve nudged for years to have a group like this one.
Over the weekend YA author Malinda Lo posted this moving reflection about what gay clubs meant to her growing up. And it got me thinking about spaces where we are safe. It is such a privilege to walk through the world feeling safe. One of the great privileges of my childhood was growing up in a safe family and a safe community. My family was safe because it was so unconditionally loving and accepting. My community was safe because it was tree-lined, wealthy and relatively crime-free. And yes, of course safe also means sheltered too. But that’s another post. The point is. I didn’t have to experience food insecurity, or abuse, or fear in walking down the street.
The community where I teach is a lot like the one I grew up in. That is why I think some students scoffed at the name of our club. Why do we need a safe space club? A few of them even showed up at the first meeting intent on being provocative or disruptive. That is their privilege. Hopefully one day they’ll go to a liberal arts college and figure it out. Or read an incredible book by someone without that privilege that shifts their understanding.
When I was in my early twenties I used to go dancing at the Man Ray club in Cambridge, MA. Gay, straight, Trans, gender-conforming or not. Everyone was accepted in that ecstatic world. That’s part of why I included a scene from that club in my upcoming book about boys in their senior year of high school struggling with identity. I loved dancing at the Man Ray. I did feel safe there. But I was so lucky because it wasn’t the only place where I was safe and free to be myself.
It is exhausting to walk through the world wondering if you are in danger just for being yourself. Physical danger, emotional danger, it is exhausting. So yes, kiddos, we do need safe spaces; in our schools, in our homes, in our communities. And when one of those spaces is tragically violated as it was this weekend in Orlando it is a good reminder to us all not to get lazy, not to assume everyone feels as safe as we do, and to do whatever we can to create spaces where they do.
Women in my family have a long history of not giving a care about mother’s day. There is one phrase that always irks me and it seems to come out in full force around Mother’s Day; that’s when people thank their kids for “making them a mother”.
It’s just not something I relate to and it seems to simplify and diminish a process of change and transition that lasts months and even years. Also, and I know this is my own hang up, but no one made me a mother except me. Simply reproducing does not make you a mother or a father. Growing and carrying another person inside your uterus for 9 months is pretty miraculous but it also does not make you a mother. Getting that baby out of your body in whatever way works is pretty badass but it also does not make you a mother.
Shortly after Eliana was born I felt like I had survived that scene in Aliens when the creature punches a hole through the human and emerges yowling at its new found freedom. I did not feel like her mother. I felt like the most under-qualified babysitter ever and I kept waiting for someone to show up and take her for a few weeks so I could read all those important baby books I’d been given.
When I think about experiences that made me a mother, I think about the first time I changed a blow out diaper in the back of my car. Or when I learned that I could nurse my baby in most settings and without the four hundred pillows I used at home to get us both comfortable. Until Eliana started calling me mama that word felt awkward to me. I hated when people used in a weird third person greeting when I was still pregnant. “How’s mama feeling?” Who are you talking about? I’m sure my face said it all. I’ve never been very good at hiding my thoughts.
To me the word mother represents nurture. It represents putting someone’s needs in front of your own, again and again and again. It represents a unique marinade of love and frustration, pride and fear. It is not something given to you, it’s something you show up for every day; a role you grow with and into sometimes gracefully, but more often covered in some sort of bodily fluid.